The Pro Bowl has been an afterthought for sports fans for years. Like most professional All-Star Games, mass exposure by media, the lack of any great value to players and the hyper-sensitivity to injury has made the games themselves into less than they used to be, and have made the weekends into great opportunities for sponsors to engage and the teams to get a respite, but not into the mega-competitions in days past. The NFL has always faced a bigger dilemma, as their game comes at the end of the season and has traditionally been in a far off site like Hawaii that is inaccessible to the average fan. While MLB has put in Futures Games and Home Run Derby and NL vs AL for the World Series, and the NBA turned All-Star Weekend into more individual skills and celebrities, the NFL has searched for other options. So Sunday, instead of having the fans just watch, the league will open up all its social media channels in game to get fans to engage with the players on the field and in real time. While there will be some screens put in to avoid controversy, it will give fans the opportunity to engage with their folks while they are standing on the sidelines, should the athletes choose, as opposed to just getting info from those at the game second hand. Will it work?
It is a solid test idea that other sports should look very hard at. Can you create brand engagement oppts off of social media that will grow a brand? Could Larry Fitzgerald for example, use his twitter feed as a call to action for Reebok to do a micro-giveaway to 10 followers with a code they would use in the next ten minutes? Could the State Farm offer discounts to 15 followers who call the next play? Those type of engagements, ala Fan Appreciation giveaways in ballparks, would be very useful tests.
Now the sport that could really take this platform to a new level in the coming months is baseball. MLB has long frowned upon the use of technology around the field, but the long days of spring training do lead to hours of downtime for all involved in Florida and Arizona. Could interested teams, through MLB Advanced Media, turn up the engagement level in the dugouts during spring training to give fans access to what players and others are doing? Why not some live tweets brought to you by x sponsor, during an afternoon of Cubs-White Sox? It would liven up an old ritual, give access to fans, create a new engagement platform without over commercializing the channels, and connect fans far away directly to the games going on in the warmer spots of Florida and Arizona.
Now these type of engagement oppts should not be a distraction to the games that count or the work players and coaches need to do to prepare. They should be kept to events needing a little pop where distractions are minimal. If it works for the NFL in Hawaii today, lets see how other use the onfield engagement going forward as a way to give added value and interest to events that may be waning for the casual fan.